Yesterday, June 2, 2015, after 6 years of taking testimony, Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, released the first portion of what will be a 6 volume report describing the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools in Canada. For more than 120 years these schools run by administrators from the Roman Catholic, United, Methodist and Presbyterian churches in Canada and funded by the Government of Canada committed ‘cultural genocide’ according to the report findings. I equate cultural genocide with cultural terrorism.
The report declares that the Residential Schools caused “lifelong scars of physical, social and emotional abuse” of aboriginal children pulled away from their parents and housed in abysmal conditions until no longer of school age. Then, often, they were dumped back on the reservation unable to function as members of their First Nation, Inuit, or Metis communities. They had been stripped of their ability to speak their aboriginal languages, stripped of their ability to participate in traditional cultural activities, stripped of their understanding of traditional spiritual matters.
Over the course of 6 years, the Commission took testimony from more than 6,700 survivors of this school system. It is estimated that over the time frame of these schools more than 150,000 children were forced into an educational black hole. Though most of the schools had been closed during the middle half of the last century, the last to close just outside of Regina Saskatchewan was open until 1996. During that same time frame it is estimated that at least 6,000 died while in residence. Most were never returned to their parents, never reported by name as having died, never buried in marked graves.
Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has so far been non-committal about the report in response to queries in the House of Commons. His Conservative Government did issue a rather vague apology a few years ago. The PM says the matter is adopted as an aspirational concern, whatever that means. Justice Sinclair has declared publicly that the government must move from apology to action. The Commission’s report calls upon the government and others to take action on a large variety of concerns, some 94 in all. More specifically the report in its Executive summary says the government has a responsibility to change policies, programs and adopt the United Nations declaration on Indigenous Peoples with a view to implementation.
There is a gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal populations, especially regarding education funding, performance and achievement that needs to be closed according to the report. Peter Edwards of The Star reports Gorden Peters, Grand Chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians saying “You can’t have Canada built on a foundation of lies.” Sadly the history of the Indian Residential Schools reveals more than 120 years of Canadian Government lies concerning the policies respecting Indian children.
“Reconciliation is about learning and maintaining respectful relationships. There are no shortcuts.” Justice Sinclair.
The Executive Summary is 388 fascinating pages, which at the same time is a history of bad acts by Canada beginning with Canada’s founding Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald. For over a century the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal Policies have focused on the elimination of Aboriginal governments, ignoring Aboriginal rights, termination of treaties, and by assimilation the elimination of Aboriginal peoples by having them cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious and social entities.
The report defines Cultural Genocide as “the destruction of these structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group.” The Canadian Government is shown to have systematically set out to destroy political and social institutions by means of land siezed, populations forcibly transferred, movement restricted, banning languages, persecuting spiritual leaders, forbidding spiritual practices, confiscating and destroying objects of spiritual value, and disrupting families to prevent transmission of cultural values and identity. Overall, the Canadian government acted to deny full participation in Canadian political, economic and social life. Aboriginals were seen as unfit parents thus removal of children to the Residential Schools was seen as justifiable.
The Commission recognizes that the use of the term Aboriginal includes members of the First Nations, Inuit and Metis populations. Indeed the report reveals that the Metis in particular were viewed as members of the ‘dangerous classes’ which the Residential Schools were intended to ‘civilize and assimilate.’ Clem Chartier, President of the Metis National Council observes “many issues regarding the relationship between Metis people and residential schools still… (are) not resolved.”
I maintain that all of the above is surely reasonable evidence that cultural genocide and cultural terrorism are similar names for this extremely bad behavior on the part of the Canadian Government. It is a theme which fits well with the story that I am currently writing about in my second novel A Prairie Vendetta. My progress on this is slow as I struggle with information such as is revealed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The story involves Metis youth and their perception of wrong done to their population by the federal government. The fiction that I am creating will of course show terrorist attitudes. In real life I don’t condone terrorism. That is partly why I decided this particular blog needed to be written. But, in truth, I’m not sure I understand the entire situation. As a retired broadcast journalist I look back and discover in myself that I knew a small something about residential schools but did nothing about that knowledge. No investigative reporting on the subject. Mea Culpa, perhaps and probably. As a citizen of Canada I’ll have to face up to the fact that I am part of the corporate whole that perhaps docily went along with government policy all the while content that I among others did not have to deal personally with the issues of the Residential Schools. For all Canadians, I think that personal consideration can no longer be avoided. We share the guilt and must now seek to reconcile and be reconciled.
You can fid the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report,released on June 2, 2015 here: http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=7 I suggest that you take the time to read this initial release. The full report is expected later this year. In addition to the official languages of Canada the report will be translated into 6 Aboriginal languages.
Thanks for your support. Good reading friends.